Two MK Lightning legends were commemorated on Saturday before the new-look side took to the ice to beat fellow Elite League new boys Guildford Flames 3-1 at the MK Arena.
The number 18 and number nine shirts of former long serving players, captain Adam Carr and Grant McPherson, were officially retired after several of the ‘old guard’ returned to the ice for the raising of a banner to mark Lightning’s final English Premier League Play-off win last season.
But once those pre-game ceremonies were over there was no room for sentiment as Lightning went into battle against their old EPL foes from Surrey who were playing their first challenge match since stepping up to the top level of British hockey.
It was clear from the outset that Paul Dixon’s charges were a step or two behind Pete Russell’s men in game experience. Indeed they were caught out as early as the 44thsecond when Christian Isackson fed Ludwig Karlsson to blast past former Coventry Blaze goalie Brian Stewart.
At the other end of the ice Lightning’s Miika Wiikman – drafted in as cover for the injured Prezmy Odrobny – had precious little to do in the early stages.
However if Lightning fans believed a rout was in the offing they were disappointed, despite the team dominating much of the opening play.
Flames quickly spurned the chance of a powerplay when Paul Phillips was sin binned for roughing in the sixth minute – within seconds Guildford’s Kruise Reddick was also side-lined for slashing.
The game also marked a return to the MK Arena for referee Tom Darnell – son of the ex-owner of the long defunct MK Kings, Mike Darnell. For the first 20 minutes he seemed determined to stamp his authority on the encounter with Isackson going for boarding behind the opposition goal in the ninth minute – to no ill effect on Lightning.
Guillaume Doucet and Matt Nickerson both warmed the MK penalty bench for slashing and elbows to give Flames a two man advantage but Lightning’s penalty kill unit remained mobile to thwart the visitors.
There was a brief scare for Lightning four minutes from the break when Flames had the puck in the net but Darnell rightly ruled the net was off its moorings before the shot went in – checking the goal-line technology screen just to make sure.
MK kept their one goal lead to the first break and despite Flames showing much more promise in the first minutes of the middle stanza there was no breaching of the home defence – Carl Ackered testing former Nottingham Panther stopper Wiikman with a powerblast from inside the blue line in one of the visitors’ best chances.
Despite that it was the home outfit that added to their total when Karlsson supplied captain Kevin King to set up a wicked shot from out on the right on 31mins 51secs.
The bumper crowd then witnessed possibly the first time that a netminder has been given a match penalty in a senior match at the Milton Keynes rink – Stewart being dismissed for excessive roughing after lashing out with his fists, blocker and all, in a goalmouth melee in the 36th minute.
With Watters already in the sin bin for tripping that meant Flames were down to three skaters after former Cardiff Devil Mike Will took over between the pipes.
Will found himself picking the puck out of the net as Lightning made it 3-0 52 seconds from the second break – Denny Kearney being credited with the goal even though it appeared the shot clearly came from Isackson out on the left.
Lightning replaced Swedish born Finn Wiikman with home grown Jordan Hedley for the start of the third session and he again acquitted himself well, turning away all but one shot which saw Flames score on the powerplay through Watters, assisted by Ackered, on 51mins 18secs.
As the final buzzer approached Flames’ challenge fizzled out although Hedley did well to deny David Lilleström while his side were short-handed in the 58th minute – Jesse Craige serving time for cross checking.
It was another highly satisfactory night’s work for Lightning ahead of the opening of the Elite League season next weekend.